By Justine McGuire
Don’t forget the doggy dish.
Michiganians might be able to dine at restaurants with their furry friends soon — at least if they are outdoors.
Dogs may be allowed to accompany their owners in outdoor dining areas if a bill introduced by Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, passes.
O’Brien said she wrote the bill after being approached by constituents who were concerned because they could bring their dogs into patio seating areas when traveling out of state to Florida but not in Michigan.
The bill would allow a restaurant to decide whether to permit dogs in outdoor seating areas and would let it turn away dogs if there is a health or safety hazard present. It would also let local governments adopt ordinances that are more restrictive or don’t allow dogs at all.
Current law prohibits dogs in every part of a business licensed to sell food, unless it’s a service dog.
“This bill is really about making Michigan more tourism-friendly — a lot of people love their four-legged companions,” O’Brien said.
Sally Laukitis, director of the Holland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she supports the proposal because it would add a nice ambiance to her city’s downtown.
People are traveling with their pets more, and Holland has tried to accommodate them by creating a list of dog-friendly venues, Laukitis said. The list includes Holland Inn and Suites, Kirk Park and Nelis’ Dutch Village.
However, that list doesn’t include any place that sells food.
But some restaurants in Holland with outdoor seating are already pet-friendly. Laukitis said she often sees dog-and-owner duos enjoying the sunshine and cuisine at downtown establishments. Some restaurants that allow pets outside — or maybe turn a blind eye to them — are New Holland Brewing Co. and JP’s coffee house, she said.
In contrast, Pat Black, director of the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “When was the last time any of us wanted to bring our dog to dinner?”
Black said dogs in an eating area would offend her even though she’s a dog lover. She said she is concerned about dogs begging and sanitation problems.
“It would only appeal to certain people and would turn others away,” she said.
She added that some restaurants in Marquette have areas where customers can tie up their dogs while dining outdoors
and that seems to work well.
But she said she likes the provision in the bill to allow restaurants to make their own decision.
The Michigan Restaurant Association is neutral, as long as restaurants don’t have to allow dogs on patios, said Adriane De Ceuninck, its vice president of marketing and communication.
She said it most likely wouldn’t become common practice because of food safety, customer allergies and other factors.
Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, a co-sponsor, said that allowing dogs in outdoor dining areas would present advantages for the tourism industry and local businesses.
“Coming from a northern district with numerous tourist cities, I certainly see the benefit of making it easier for families with canine companions to travel and enjoy outdoor eating,” Foster said.
Other cosponsors are Reps. Peter Petallia, R-Presque Isle; Ray Franz, R-Onekama; and Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck.
Pettalia, Tourism Committee chair, said some restaurants already allow dogs on patios, although it’s illegal.
“I think it’s something that should be left up to the restaurant owner, not state regulation,” he said.
He said he plans to get the bill through his committee soon and signed by the governor in time for the summer tourism season.